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The SMH’s completely unethical conduct notwithstanding, people will be wondering if it is a good idea to have a recall election. I can see the reasons behind wanting it, after all why should the people of NSW continue to suffer the incompetence of state Labor? Why should politicians elect the premier and not the People? These are very admirable sentiments with which I wholly agree (though, I should add that technically the People don’t elect the premier, they elect their MPs who then choose the premier, and continue to choose their premier over their four year terms).

But it is not a good idea to enact a constitutional amendment to remove one government unless there is a good reason to create such a constitutional mechanism. The recall election mechanism can be used against all future governments, including those which are both bona fide and competent. And a recall election is not a good idea. The reason always advanced is that “governments can’t make hard decisions”, but it is hard to visualise why this is a very terrible consequence until you look more carefully at what this consequence means.

You can tell a recall election is not a good idea, because it originated in California, which I have continuously maintained has the worst constitutional system in the world. The recall election is one of these. It is true that it was used against the incompetent governor, Gray Davis, a few years back to bring in Arnold Schwarzenegger, who in my opinion at least is a competent governor. The problem is, there are those on both the extreme left and right who consider him a terrible governor. They constitute at least 1% of the population, so they can easily dredge up enough petitions to launch a recall election.

In the current budget crisis, with his hands constitutionally tied, Arnie has just a few options in front of him. He can make budget cuts – particularly to the bloated California education system, which will infuriate teachers unions and student associations. If there weren’t already an election coming up, you could bet there would be. Alternatively, he could raise the debt further, which would infuriate the right. You could be there would be a recall election. The result? There is no way to resolve the budget crisis without sparking an election, creating even more uncertainty during a time when government should be providing certainty.

In effect, what this does is create a tyranny of the minority – just 1% of the population can force the other 99% to hold an election, removing the four year mandate that the other 99% gave to the current government. The problem is that 1% of the population is both too small a number and too large a number. It is too large a number because the only forces which can raise the petitions necessary in a short time span are very well-funded organisations, for instance media companies like Fairfax, large lobby groups like the Mormon Church and others who funded the California Constitutional gay marriage ban, corporations and unions. It provides these groups power that true grassroots organisations can’t organise. That is not democratic. But it is, as I said earlier, also too small of a number because 1% of the population is not representative of the whole population. 1% is the number of people who vote for One Nation, or believe that Freemasons run our government.

The argument that a recall election prevents governments from making hard decisions sounds like a throw-away line. It sounds patronising – that the People are so foolish that they would arbitrarily remove a government, or that governments can’t govern during election times. But its not that – its that the system itself is easily open to abuse from corporations and lobby groups. Far from making our system more democratic, allowing a recall election gives more power to small extremist minorities. If there are such groups on both sides of a particularly difficult policy issue, it makes it impossible to pass any sort of comprehensive reform without a recall election. It is a very bad idea.


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